Tornado Season in Tornado Alley
Tornado Warning: Bullseye!
On Saturday, April 14, 2012, Wichita, Kansas, became the target of a dangerous storm system that spawned approximately one hundred tornadoes in Kansas alone! Meteorologists had warned over 24 hours in advance that Wichita was particularly susceptible to severe storms and a tornado outbreak. Sources say that this type of advance warning has only been done one other time in history...when the "Tennessee tornadoes" struck in 2006. So, whoever says the weatherman always lies is obviously telling a lie...lol.
Sure enough, around 9pm, the reports of a tornado on the ground headed straight for Wichita began to air on local and national news and then began filling the Facebook newsfeed. About that same time, the tornado sirens began wailing, and while I had been encouraging my kids to get their socks and shoes on all evening (something I always do in Kansas severe weather), they suddenly sprang into action once the threat of a tornado suddenly became very real.
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I hustled our family down to the basement, and we began our checklist: Candles/matches/flashlights (in case the power goes out)...check. Fully dressed with shoes/socks/sweater (in case of surviving a direct hit and having to walk around in debris afterwards)...check. Water/Bread/PBJ/Apples (in case we would get stuck and need to eat)...check. Cell phone/laptop/IPOD (to stay in touch with concerned family and friends as well as keep tabs on the approaching storm)...check. Spicy (our cat)...check.
Will It Be Like Greensburg?
While the storm approached, hundreds of thousands of Wichitans huddled in their shelters to wait out the storm and hope for the best. Early reports indicated that the tornado was nearly one mile wide and would come through Wichita near the 135/Kellogg (US HWY 54) interchange. I did the mental math on that and realized that we lived approximately 5 miles due north from that location, and I'm not an expert on tornadoes by any means, but I know that 5 miles isn't very far from a large tornado whose path could shift unexpectedly at any time.
The first image that came to my mind was the damage and devastation from the EF5 tornado that leveled Greensburg, Kansas, in May 2007. I actually drove through Greensburg on my way to Liberal, Kansas, on that fateful friday evening for visitation exchange with my ex-husband. I remember seeing that storm from a distance as I traveled east on US Hwy 54, and I said to my kids, "Oh boy, somebody under those clouds is really getting it tonight", but at the time, I really had no idea just how bad. I headed back to Wichita around 10:00 that evening thinking that I had probably given the worst of the storm time enough to cross US Hwy 54 without us getting in its way, but when I reached Bucklin, Kansas, I was turned around by a deputy who informed me that the entire town of Greensburg, Kansas, had been destroyed by a tornado.
I quickly snapped back to reality. Although I was tempted to just succumb to full-blown panic, and I realized that I was doing everything that I possibly could in my current situation. As Rhianna, singer/songwriter/superstar, once said, "God has this thing about doing stuff His own way and there really is just nothing you can do about that." I looked at my children with a calm smile, and I told them that I loved them (and that if we died they should meet me at the red pole...but that was really just more for good measure...haha). We quickly went over once again how we would go to the bathroom, shut the door, and wrap the pillows around our heads if it appeared we would take a direct hit, but until we knew we just had to stay alert.
It wasn't much longer until we got the news that the tornado had arrived in Wichita and the southeast side of town was taking a direct hit. Even though we live on the far north side of town, it was still too close for comfort, so we remained in the basement until the storm had completely passed, and we received the "all clear". I smiled at the kids and said, "Well, I guess we are spared tonight." Exhausted, we let our loved ones know we were ok, and suddenly, it was again business as usual.
Places NOT to be During Severe Weather
While we are fortunate enough to have a basement in which to retreat during severe weather, I realize that not everyone lives in a house with a basement or a storm shelter nearby. My best advise in that case is to plan ahead to wait out the storm at a friend's or family member's basement or shelter. It is important to not wait too long to get to shelter. In case you know absolutely nobody with a basement or other type of tornado shelter (which I, quite frankly, find impossible to believe if you know ANYBODY in Kansas), I have created a small list of some places NOT to be in the event you are caught without shelter during a tornado. If you are ever going to visit "tornado alley" during spring, I recommend that you remain alert and prepared to seek shelter in the case of severe weather. There is usually plenty of notice prior to a severe tornado or thunderstorm, but many people don't heed the warning, and that is how they get hurt!
- Metal Buildings: As you can see in the picture to the right, metal buildings are easily mangled and tangled when it comes to tornadoes. This includes mobile and/or modular homes. The structure of those buildings is really not sturdy enough to sustain any type of significant wind such as in a tornado or severe storm.
- On the Fence: While I understand that indecisiveness is unavoidable sometimes, riding the fence - especially if it's chain link - is not a good idea during a tornado. The best idea is to seek shelter during severe weather!
- Near Utility or Light Poles: This is actually a good idea at all times, but this is some especially sound advice during a tornado. Much of the area that was closed to traffic after the storm was due to downed electrical wires. At one time, it was reported that 25,000 people in the metro area were without power.
- In or Around a Tree: Perhaps, you are a fan of climbing trees or playing in tree houses. Ok, fine. Just stay away from the trees near severe weather. They tend to get struck by lightning or downed by high winds.
- In a Portable Toilet: With portable toilets strewn all over the turnpike in south Wichita in piece, I am fairly certain that a portable toilet should definitely be on this list of places NOT to be during severe weather!
In case you are wondering, I don't really think that anyone would actually seek shelter from severe weather in any of the above-mentioned places (but ya really never know...just sayin'). I just chose a (hopefully at least somewhat) entertaining way of illustrating the pictures I took with my own camera while riding around and assessing damage the day after the storm. I didn't even attempt to get into the areas that were hardest hit by the storm. Instead, I chose a route that just skirted the edge of the majority of the storm devastation.
The Day After: April 15, 2012
The pristine skies and gentle breeze in Wichita, Kansas on April 15, 2012 gave absolutely no indication of the fierce storms that had pounded Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska with torrential rain, up to baseball size hail, and over 100 tornadoes less than 24 hours earlier. As I was taking the pictures to the right, it was as if the skies were looking down innocently at the path of damage they had left behind saying, "Did I do that?" - like Urkel...lol.
As I drove around taking pictures, I thanked God for the lives he had spared. I was thinking about our beautiful city, and I thanked him for sparing the downtown area as well. In my opinion, Wichita, Kansas, really is WICHITAWESOME!! If you have never visited our fair city, I invite you to come, but pay attention to the weather forecasts because we are known to have some pretty crazy weather!
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The town or city you live in is not something you should count on to keep you from harms way. They are run and operated by humans just like yourself and humans are just that. I suggest you make sure that you can handle whatever circumstance you live.
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